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Threats against legislators undermine democracy

Credit: Maria Raffaele/Art Editor Credit: Maria Raffaele/Art Editor

If you haven’t been living under a rock (or in a cluster), you probably know by now that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a comprehensive health care reform bill late Sunday, March 22. You also probably know that Republicans are unhappy with the bill.

Though there are strong views and valid points on both sides of the debate, it is actions outside the political arena that concern us most. In the week since the passage of the bill, several Congressmen have received threats and had their offices vandalized as a result of their votes. These petty acts of violence violate the core principles of our republic.

The past few years have seen a disturbing polarization of the American political establishment as the Republicans and Democrats move farther apart. As the parties have appealed to their bases, the radical factions of each side gain influence. Yet this polarization does not excuse threats of violence against elected officials. This is not a country with autocratic rule, where there exists no lawful way to change the government. It is not a totalitarian state where violent protest is the only way to make one’s voice heard. We are in a midterm election year, and those who have grievances with the current leadership should take their anger and join political groups or run for office.

Though Democrats would like to paint the entire Republican Party as supporting these domestic terrorists, this is a willful misconception. People who believe that threatening the families of Congressmen is a valid political statement are not part of our political process. They have probably not read any part of the actual health care bill, nor have they likely educated themselves about both sides of the debate. Doing so would have required knowledge of the principles of American government, something these terrorists obviously lack. Instead of relying on facts, these individuals know only what they have heard from sources like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

The trend of radicalization and extremism in American politics over the last decade has grave risks for our future as a democracy. In a nation of laws, there should never be justification for threats and violence against government officials. Rather than participating in democracy, those who commit these acts attack its very foundations.